On boycotting the Oscars, boycotting Cambridge University and the Hunger Games.

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When I saw the video of Jada Pinkett Smith advocating boycotting the Oscars, three thoughts came to mind:
1. I agree on the basis that the Academy (Oscar board) is biased and it’s perhaps worth investing effort into developing a new institution that acknowledges and celebrates the contributions of a diverse range of people. A panel, like the Academy, that is overwhelmingly dominated by white men who identify with and understand what it means to be ‘white and male’ will probably be more empathetic toward white males… even if they try to be fair. We can try to be objective, but the truth is that we’re often not. Our experience of life shades our understanding of others, even our appreciation of them, and often we’re simply better able to empathise with and appreciate the experiences of those who we feel similar to in some way. Maybe the Academy will never change, and a boycott may help transpose effort into a different, new endeavor that is more diverse at the core; an endeavor that may build prestige and benefit more folks over time.
2. …But I disagree on the basis that a new, more diverse structure may not necessarily achieve as much widespread acclaim and power as the old. If the Academy continues to be respected as ‘fair’ by many white people, then having non-white folks simply leave will rob many white folks of the opportunity to appreciate black greatness. Further, if we only have a situation where white people see one thing as great and fair to all, but it rarely or never acknowledges non-white folks, and if we have another situation where non-white folks see another thing as great and fair to all (assuming white-privilege doesn’t exist), but it never or rarely acknowledges white folks, then we’ll effectively be creating a situation where people increasingly reward themselves, fail to see eye to eye, slip further and further away from objectivity and more and more into their insular, segregated circles. If we’re to truly appreciate each other’s merit and greatness, we need to work toward powerful, prestigious systems that include diversity in decisions and awards and is respected by everyone. Part of the process of creating that ideal can involve fixing the already widely acclaimed rather than simply tearing it down and replacing it with something which only one group might acknowledge, or might fail.
3. …and it’s because of those two, seemingly opposing thoughts, that I have sometimes struggled a bit with the idea of being a student at Cambridge University. The University of Cambridge​ is a very, very old, English, university that is dominated by ‘rich’, ‘white’ and ‘male’ in various ways. It has the prestige and reputation of being one of the world’s top educational institutions. White, black, male, female, English, Trini, all other, in-between and more respect its accreditation. However, even with all her greatness and respect, succeeding in joining her ranks isn’t simply a fair process. When you are accepted to Cambridge University, the acceptance is a mark of one’s merit, but it’s also a mark of luck and privilege. I’ve been confronted before with the idea of moving ahead in academia here, post-Ph.D., and to be quite honest, I simply have no desire to even try. I’ve seen two young, white, male friends offered positions here after completing their PhDs and it’s extremely difficult for me to imagine that even if I had all the publications and achievements that they had, that I, a young, black woman, would even be considered for the job. I’ve never had a person of African descent as a lecturer in Cambridge during my MPhil or the PhD thus far, but at the UWI, in the Caribbean, I had 5 white lecturers. I’ve been a member of two female-student dominated departments at Cambridge (Psychology and Education), but the heads of both departments are men. I’ve seen a trajectory where the majority of students are female, and the higher up the ladder one goes, the ratio starts favouring men more and more. I know that I’m participating in a system that likely unfairly excluded many others like me, and whilst I reap the benefits of its prestige, I’m failing to invest in another institution that may privilege a more diverse group of people. On the other hand, I know that Cambridge University will probably retain its prestige for hundreds of years more, and it may be a long time before anyone who invests in newer, more diverse universities, will gain the respect, repute and power to change things. I know that my presence at Cambridge is perhaps a small step toward making things fairer and making that prestige more accessible to others in the future; just as the first female student here made it possible for me and others now. I, being here, am also an example that black girls can… and I might be the only example that a few white men see and can engage with in a meaningful way. My presence offers the type of meaningful engagement that can help some develop the type of empathy and understanding to allow them to more fairly judge other black girls when they are in positions to do so. My presence offers me the opportunity and the power to push for change from within.

This then brings me to the final point of the conundrum: should we abandon the old and start afresh, whilst knowing that there is a chance that the fresh will fail too or may not succeed quickly enough to ensure that everyone benefits from the change OR should we stick with trying to improve the tried and tested old, whilst knowing that in sticking with it there is a chance that our efforts to fix it and make it fairer might fail or may not succeed quickly enough to benefit everyone? Well, at the end of the day, I don’t really have an answer, except that I see benefit in both approaches… but I also see risk. In some ways it reminds me vaguely of the Hunger Games and the Capital, which admittedly is a bit of a drastic comparison: Katniss was able to inspire change outside, and change things and hearts from within because of her involvement with people in the Capital and the merit she earned from going to compete. Similarly, some folks were able to change things by leaving the Capital and/or sticking their fingers up at it. In the end, they worked together and created something new both by dismantling some of the old, and keeping some of it. Whether we fix the broken, or create something new, we’ll have to contend with the fact that there is a chance the system might fail, or that we’ll endure growing pains…and so perhaps, maybe it’s simply good enough to choose the avenue we personally think is the one we have a better chance of bringing about victory for all through.
[btw, the illustration is of my college at Cambridge Uni- Corpus Christi]
——— To support me in my PhD studies, please hire me to do an illustration. Message me if interested and spread the word ^_^ Thanks!
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What I ‘should’ write about

joel graingerThis is a sketch of a violinist I saw opposite the Cambridge Market​. It’s a spot that many people tend to come and perform at at various points in time. There is an interesting piece of sculpture in the area, with some mice walking around a black and white pole and a cat standing atop looking down. Across the street, fruits, veggies and a range of other market type things are sold, and many people often frequent the area. I imagine that that’s why so many performers choose the spot (because it’s busy) though I like to imagine that the mice and the white cat also have something to do with it. ^_^ The violinist’s name is Joel Grainger​… the name was written down on a sign in front of his performance area. I stood there for a while listening to him, enjoying the performance and being a bit jealous that I couldn’t play a violin myself. I figured that I’d draw the moment, because I quite enjoyed it and I thought it would be nice to share it.
After thinking some time on writing about it though, I began to feel a strange sense of insecurity; quite unrelated from anything to do with playing violins, but related instead to what I ‘should’ be writing about. Often enough, I come on Facebook and see folks, educated folks, talking about the recession, the economy, education, politics… serious stuff. I write about serious things from time to time too, though most times, if ever I write about a serious thing, it mostly centers around ‘identity’. I thought to myself, “Kalifa, you’re supposed to be an academic, an intellectual, a smart person who’s critically engaged with serious stuff; where are your posts offering opinion and critique of all the current events and news stories? Instead, you’re thinking about writing about violins, cats, feelings and random experiences.” It’s true, I quite enjoy writing and thinking about random, ‘light’ experiences. I like sharing them, drawing them, and I do feel some sense of guilt surrounding that; because I sometimes feel like maybe I should be more like other folks and comment on all the serious current events going on in T&T and around the world.
I’d like to think though that there is a place for me in the sea of opinion and experience that is social media. Perhaps I’m not quite the best at social, economic and political commentary, but I do think that I do a fair job at just documenting little joys and sorrows of life. 🙂
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First Week of classes: Completed!

hatch backsI just completed my first week of classes for the new term. It was sort of an up/down week. This is a sketch of the beginning of Hills Road. The building in the background is Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church​. This is part of one of the routes I take when I walk to class. I drew more leaves on the trees than there actually are now, but yup.
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To support me in my PhD studies, please hire me to do an illustration. Message me if interested and spread the word kiki emoticon Thanks!
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Sexual Harassment: These are all a few true incidents that occurred, to me

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Incident 1: Chaguaramas
I was walking along the beach, dressed in casual wear, just relaxing. I’d decided to visit, not to bathe, but just to walk, explore and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. After walking past an empty lifeguard lookout, and heading toward the road from the shore, a man who was walking with a group, smiled and said ‘Good Morning’. I smiled back and said ‘Good Morning’ in response. He suddenly ran up to me, kissed me, said something about me being pretty, and then went. I stood shocked for a moment and then nervously laughed it off. I felt ashamed and guilty for the incident happening. I tormented myself on how I should have responded and what I might have done differently to prevent the man from kissing me.

Incident 2: Chaguanas
I was walking on my way to the dentist. I noticed a man walking behind me and worried that he was following me, but I brushed off the idea. I continued walking when another man, who apparently knew one of my uncles, hailed me out. I talked to him a while, and then continued on my walk. I looked behind me and realised that the man who I thought was following me was still there walking behind me. I started to get nervous, because surely he should have walked past me when I stopped to talk to the other man… but he hadn’t. I continued to walk, and reached an area where few other people were on the pavement, though cars were still driving by. The man then started shouting behind me, telling me all the sexual things he wanted to do to me. I was scared, and I sped up my walk. The dentist’s office was nearby; I was almost there. After a quick walk, I walked into the building and told the lady guard there that a man was following me and that he was waiting behind the wall around the corner. The guard then told another lady working at the office. They locked the building and the guard went to look around the corner for the man. She didn’t see him… still though, they took my claim seriously, tried to calm me down, and kept the building locked. They suggested that I call someone with a vehicle since it was perhaps dangerous to leave and walk again. I called my mom. She came and we went to the police and made a report. I was scared to walk in Chaguanas for quite some time after that happened.

Incident 3: Curepe
I went to work in a dress. Most days I wore loose pants and a top, but this day I wore a knee-length dress that showed my curves. Some men made calls, comments about how sexy I looked and how they liked me, and kiss noises much more than usual at me that day whilst I was walking on the street. I felt extremely uncomfortable, objectified and even scared… and I never wore a dress to work again.

Incident 4: Curepe
I was on my way to Chaguanas in a maxi from Curepe. I dozed off for a short while (a few minutes), and woke up to find a man stroking my thighs and he had pressed himself against me.
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…and yes, I know that men are sometimes harassed too. I’ve wondered from time to time how different I might be if I hadn’t been made to feel so uncomfortable by strangers/men making unwarranted, inappropriate comments and advances to me. I imagine that many women experience similar things. Thanks for sharing your stories in the comments.

When it feels impossible

bear girl_wip

I began this illustration with the thought that despite feeling like failure was imminent, I was going to be defiant, fight and succeed in funding my way through this PhD. I named her ‘Bear girl’. It remains unfinished, and I struggle at times in finding the fight to continue. I’m not even halfway through my first year, and often, during reflection, the task ahead feels impossible. It scares me less now, partly because a larger part of me has already resigned to failure in the event that it does happen. I knew it was a risk coming to the UK, to Cambridge, and trying. I was forewarned that the possibility of failure is high… both by people who had never taken similar risks, and by folks who have.

Yet still, I went ahead, hopeful that somehow, someway, with enough work and attempts, I’d be able to pay the way through… but imagination often fools us well beyond what reality can conjure. I still need many, many more illustration jobs, or at least one steady job of any (legal) description, to carry me through; and either of those happening feels more and more impossible as time carries on.

I had dreams of inspiring others to not give up on their dreams, through the story of succeeding in achieving my own… but reality has a way of humbling expectations. I’m scared. I blanket myself daily from this fear by trying to focus on the beautiful and what I do have, but at the back of my mind it constantly plays on that I may not have enough funds or strength to scrape by.

Perhaps though, even if I can’t encourage anyone by a brilliant success story, hopefully I’ll at least be able to do it with ‘mere’ words. As I have been telling myself a lot recently, ‘We’ll see’.